Does a Criminal Record Prevent You From Entering the U.S.?

Are you a Canadian citizen or permanent resident interested in working or immigrating to the U.S., but have a criminal conviction?

Criminal inadmissibility can render non-U.S. citizens inadmissible for entrance to the U.S. or be grounds for deportation for individuals already legally in the U.S. – even those who hold Permanent Residence (Green Card Holders). For those individuals already legally in the U.S., a criminal conviction can be grounds for deportation to the individual’s home country.

The following is a list of criminal activities that render you inadmissible to the U.S.:

  • Determined to be a drug abuser or addict (whether done so legally or illegally)
  • Crimes of “moral turpitude”
  • Violations of law or regulations relating to a controlled substance (i.e. trafficking)
  • Trafficking in persons
  • Money laundering
  • Overstaying legal admission to the U.S.

You can also be inadmissible for other crimes if you have multiple convictions. Multiple criminal convictions are defined as a conviction for two or more crimes involving moral turpitude – so long as the offences did not arise out of a single scheme, and regardless of whether the penalty was jail.

What is moral turpitude?

The term “moral turpitude” generally refers to “conduct that shocks the public conscience.” Serious offences such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assaults involve moral turpitude.

For immigration purposes, however, less serious crimes also qualify as involving moral turpitude, such as assaults not involving dangerous weapons or evil intent. In addition, conspiracy and attempt or being an accessory involves moral turpitude if the underlying offence involves moral turpitude. Any crime which has the element of intent to defraud is deemed a crime involving moral turpitude for the purposes of U.S. Immigration. Further, convictions resulting in a sentence of confinement of one year or more is sufficient – even if the sentence is entirely suspended.

A single crime of moral turpitude in which a sentence of less than one year is imposed could still be an issue when entering the U.S., but would not be a ground for deportation for those individuals already legally in the U.S.

A crime of moral turpitude committed within the past five years and resulting in jail for one year or longer affects immigration.

How does the use of cannabis affect immigration to the U.S.?

Selling, possessing, producing, distributing or facilitating medical or recreational cannabis (marijuana) remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

As federal law prohibits the importation and exportation of cannabis, crossing the international border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry with cannabis may result in seizure, fines and/or arrest and may affect admissibility.

Individuals who use cannabis (legally or illegally) may be ineligible for visas, as well as persons who aid, abet or facilitate the traffic of cannabis in the U.S.

If you plan to use cannabis during your time in the U.S., you can be found ineligible for a visa based on intending to engage in unlawful activity in the U.S.

What if I work in the cannabis industry?

A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S.

However, if a traveller is found to be coming to the U.S. for reasons related to the marijuana industry, he or she may be deemed inadmissible and his or her visa application may be denied.

Read more about immigration for Canadians in the cannabis industry.

What about driving under the influence related offences?

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) convictions are not treated the same in the U.S. as in Canada.

Canada’s fines and penalties for DUIs are far more severe than the U.S.

Unlike Canada, a single DUI does not render an individual inadmissible to the U.S.

In contrast, U.S. citizens seeking entry to Canada with a driving under the influence related offence will face consequences of inadmissibility to Canada. We cover Canadian criminal inadmissibility in our previous blog post.

Process for getting into the U.S. if you are criminally inadmissible:

Individuals who would otherwise be inadmissible to the U.S. may be eligible to apply in advance of travel directly to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a temporary waiver of inadmissibility. Your eligibility for the temporary waiver will depend on the reason for your inadmissibility into the U.S., and the class of nonimmigrant admission you seek.

The waiver application process can be lengthy (up to a year) and there is a cost of US$585 per application regardless of the decision.

For more information on criminal inadmissibility to the U.S. and crimes involving moral turpitude, download our free e-book.

Download the Free E-book: Tips for Travelling to the U.S. for Work

Are you interested in immigrating to the U.S.? Please contact our immigration law team.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.